Prosecution leans on confession in Daniel Green murder case

Prosecutor David Alavezos uses alleged killer Erika Sandoval’s confession in opening statement, Sandoval attorney argues EPD Officer Green was emotionally abusive

@TheSunGazette

VISALIA – Tulare County prosecutors have begun their trial to convict Erika Sandoval, the alleged killer of Exeter police officer Daniel Green.

After more than four years since Green was killed on Feb. 6, 2019, the District Attorney’s office and Sandoval’s attorney had their opportunity to give their opening statements on Oct. 1 and Oct. 2. Prosecutor David Alavezos argued that Sandoval committed first degree murder when she shot Green.

Erika Sandoval
32 years old

Playing audio from interviews with Detectives Mark Zamora and Rodney Klassen, Alavezos addressed Klassen’s pointed question, “Why did you do it?”

“Why not,” Sandoval said on the video.

Klaussen responded, “All you had to do was deal with visitations.”

“That’s not what I wanted,” Sandoval replied.

Driving the point home, Alavezos reiterated another response from Sandoval, this time admitting that she made the decision to visit Green’s house and kill him, “The moment [she] got out of work.”

“She just said she went there knowing she was going to kill him,” Alavezo said.

Alavezos reviewed brief security video during his statement to the jury. On video Alavezos shows Green’s truck leaving his house on Lickey in Goshen at 10:31 a.m. on Feb. 6, 2015. While Green is gone Sandoval enters the video, and walks onto Green’s property at 11:07 a.m.

“When she makes the right, you’ll see that her walk speeds up as she goes through the side gate,” Alavezos said.

Green returns home and backs into his driveway at 12:12 p.m., and 42 minutes later at 12:54 p.m. Sandoval leaves through the same side yard she entered.

“She does not walk up the sidewalk, she kind of goes into the street and out, then back onto the sidewalk and then crosses this yard. Not really walking in a straight direction,” Alavezos said.

After she was arrested and transported, Sandoval started asking questions and eventually says, “Listen, I just want you to tell people I was cooperative.”

Alavezos said that she admitted that she entered the house through back door, took a firearm from the holster on Green’s refrigerator, unloaded Green’s duty weapon and put it back in his holster and took a second firearm from Green’s nightstand.

Alavezos went on to say that she admitted to hiding in their son Aiden’s closet with a gun that she’d taken from the top of the refrigerator, and waited until Green got home and heard him sit on the toilet. Alavezos said the jury would hear from a doctor who will talk about four entry wounds to the back of the hand, mid chest, front of the next and into the forehead, and that the cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds.

Sandoval’s attorney, Dan Chambers is arguing that Green was emotionally abusing Sandoval for years.

“When you have all the evidence and you sift through this dysfunctional mess and you listen to what the psychology of abuse is, you will reach only one conclusion, and that is that you will find Ms. Sandoval not guilty of these charges,” Chambers said.

Chambers said that he will call on Sandoval’s friends to testify that Green isolated her from close friends that she grew up with in Van Nuys, Calif. and Visalia.

“Ms. Garcia…[a] childhood friend, grew up across the street from Ms. Sandoval in Van Nuys when they were little kids. And he ended up isolating her from Erika as well. She would have to call when she had availability because if caught on the phone, Ms. Garcia will tell you, that she’d hang up right away,” Chambers said.

Chambers said that neighbors thought that Sandoval’s body language and demeanor was “off” when they would see her outside. He went on to note the back-and-forth relationship was a concoction of abusive behavior from Green.

“He spied on Erika …where she was, what was she doing, who she was with. And every time he pushed her away, he’ll go back, he’d go after her again and try to get her back,” Chambers said.

Toward the end, after Aiden was born, Chambers said that Green threatened to take away visitation rights out of spite.

“I’m going to take your child. Because I can. Because I’m a police officer. I’ve got leverage over you and I’m going to do it,” Chambers said, asserting that was Green’s motive.

Preliminary hearing

During an Aug. 11, 2015 hearing, investigating officers testified that Green had confided in his fellow officers that if anything were to happen to him to “look into Mrs. Sandoval.” Officers said Green also accused her of cutting the brakes on his motorcycle before a ride in 2012. During an interview with Sandoval on Feb. 6, officers testified that she made statements such as “What made me think I could ever get away with this?”, “No, No! I didn’t want this to happen,” and that she “wished that Green would die on duty.”

Shortly after the investigation began, TCSO Detective Mark Zamora went to Sandoval’s residence to talk with her. He asked if he could have permission to look through her cell phone as part of the investigation, to which she agreed.

On Feb. 7, detectives called Sandoval to the Government Plaza to pick up her cell phone, a rouse to get her out of her residence so officers could execute a search warrant. While filling out the paperwork, officers exchanged some small talk with Sandoval about her relationship with Green. They then asked if she was at the house at the time Green was shot. Zamora said Sandoval claimed she was not at the house and only showed up after a friend told her something had happened on Green’s street.

Zamora then claimed the Sheriff’s Department knew she had gone into and then left Green’s house prior to the police officers’ arrival.

“She changed her statement and said she was in the residence but didn’t want to be suspected,” Zamora testified.

Confessions

After detectives said her son would be taken into custody by Child Welfare Services, Zamora said Sandoval admitted to the crime and revealed key details consistent with what had happened.

When Zamora asked Sandoval if she said anything to Green before firing the gun she replied, “I didn’t have to say anything” and “He knew what was up.”

After shooting Green, Sandoval told detectives she took his duty weapon, the handgun, some ammunition, his cell phone and a PlayStation 4 to stage a robbery, in a gym bag and drove away. Zamora said Sandoval then told them she threw the bag out of the window on Highway 99. Officers later found the bag of guns, ammo and the PlayStation along Highway 99 near the rest stop where her vehicle was on video after the time of Green’s death.

Detective Rodney Klassen, TCSO’s lead investigator on the case, said the only thing out of place in the house was Green’s .45 caliber Glock pistol from his duty belt and a dust-free space on the carpet where a PlayStation 4 was hooked up to the TV.

“The PlayStation was removed to make it look like a burglary,” Klassen testified.

Zamora said Sandoval’s story changed again when confronted with the evidence at the scene. Zamora said Sandoval claims when she arrived at Green’s house a Hispanic male put a gun to the back of her head and forced her into the closet where she had to lie down, and never got to see the man. Shortly after Green arrived, the man shot him and then left. Fearful that her fingerprints were on the guns, she took them and the other items with her so she would not be suspected in Green’s shooting.

Klassen said there were no signs of forced entry and that the back door was wide open. Alavezos pointed out that Sandoval said that she did not go the front door. Klassen then meticulously examined the back fence for signs of a second suspect jumping the fence without being caught on cameras facing the front of the home. He said there was a loose moss patch growing across the top of the back fence and running the length of the that fence, yet none of the moss had been disturbed. The defense did point out that there was no moss growing along the side fence, which led to other backyards.

Checkered past

More details also came to light about Green’s arrest on domestic violence charges in 2011. Both Green and Sandoval were arrested following a domestic violence incident on Feb. 3, 2011. Detective Daniel Ford with the Visalia Police Department said he spoke with a friend and fellow motorcycle rider who lived near Green on Feb. 11. Joshua Miller told the detective that Green had asked him to come over to the house as a witness. Miller said Sandoval and Green were arguing and she threw things at him. She also put herself in the doorway and told Green he could not leave the house, which was in complete disarray. No charges were ever filed by the District Attorney’s Office, but rumors persisted regarding the officer’s arrest.

A few days later, Ford interviewed Mark Cortez, a friend and motorcycle riding buddy. Ford testified that Cortez and Green were riding motorcycles in November 2012 and Cortez had come to a stop at a red light. He noticed Green was not slowing down as he approached the stop light but luckily the light changed before Green entered the intersection.

“Green said his baby’s mother had cut the brake lines,” Ford said.

Prior to leaving the house, Cortez told Ford that he was extremely uncomfortable in the residence and that Sandoval had gone into the garage before they left on their ride.

The day of Green’s death, Ford drove to Sandoval’s residence to pick up her and her mother for questioning. Ford said Sandoval told him she and Green had not had any problems for the last few months and that they had a “friendly relationship.” She said Green was a good father to his son and that there was no jealousy when he began dating again. In his contact with her, Ford said she seemed emotional but her eyes were tear-free and without redness during questioning.

“We asked her a line of questioning to elicit some kind of emotion, but the only tears we discovered were when we said her child would grow up without his father,” Ford said.

On cross examination by Chambers, Ford did say that it is common for women to blame themselves in domestic violence situations and that it is not uncommon for women to shut down as they are in a state of shock.

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